Turkey: the country where Asia meets Europe and East meets West. It is a land which can justifiably be proud of its huge contribution to world history and culture. If you have been fortunate enough to visit this fascinating country, you will know what I mean.
My visit to Turkey last week was a great opportunity. I wanted to reinforce our cooperation to further improve our results in the international for a in which we participate: the General Fisheries Council for the Mediterranean (GFCM), The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), the Black Sea Initiatives. But I also wanted something more. I wanted to encourage the public administration to participate actively in the elaboration of the European fisheries and maritime policies, irrespective of the negotiations for Turkey’s accession to the EU.
I am not underestimating the importance of that policy. On the contrary, I have been a supporter for decades. I am sorry that because of the non-ratification of the Ankara Protocol by Turkey (i.e. the opening of Turkish ports and airports to Cypriot vessels and planes) I cannot open chapter 13 for fisheries. I hope that will see some progress here in the coming months. But I consider that while the enlargement talks follow their path, the EU and Turkey have a common interest in elaborating together and without delay the decisions that will ensure control and compliance. The reason is simple: the Mediterranean and the Black Sea are sending distress signals. Pollution, heavy maritime traffic, overfishing are all driving us into a dead-end. We don’t have the luxury to wait, to postpone. The danger is real: our children may never swim in our seas, they may never see fish other than on their i-phone screens.
The discussions I had with Ministers Davultoglu, Eker, Yildirim mirrored those concerns. We agreed to create bilateral groups for fisheries policy and control in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. My meetings with NGOs and other stakeholder further reinforced that perspective.
I have placed “blue growth” high on my list of priorities. Turkey’s geographical position provides many such opportunities. How do we generate this growth? Well, for one, by gaining better knowledge of our seas and the massive potential they hold as drivers of the innovation and competitiveness that will generate the jobs and growth we need. With its long coastlines along two of Europe’s sea basins, Turkey’s knowledge of these seas will be an essential component of the European Marine Observation and Data Network that will help us gain that knowledge.
So there are obvious practical benefits to be enjoyed. But these are at least equalled – if not outweighed – by benefits of a more symbolic but no less significant kind. I firmly believe that the Integrated Maritime Policy has the potential to bring Turkey and the EU closer to each other. In championing tangible forms of cooperation, the IMP emulates the founding principles of the European Union itself, which are to guarantee stability and avoid conflict. It provides an opportunity not only for growth, but also for peace.